This great fall weather in southern and central Manitoba recently has been a boon to anglers wanting to get out on the water. On a trip last week to the Waterhen River with a group of friends, we had two days of flat calm and bright sun. Usually this can make the fishing somewhat difficult but with plenty of fast flowing water in both the Waterhen and West Waterhen River the fish were still hungry.
Staying at Harvest Lodge, we were only a short drive from both rivers. The lodge is located just south of the town of Waterhen and caters to both anglers and hunters. Having never fished the area, the lodge owner, Jon Warkentin took the time to explain the lay of the land, which included a map of the Waterhen River south.
Harvest Lodge does rent out boats plus they have two boat launches. For larger boats like mine, he recommended that we launch just down the road at another access that he rents for just that purpose. This launch was easy to use with lots of room to park. Navigating the river to avoid some prop damage is another story however. Jon had warned us about the rocks in the river and after launching it took me about five minutes to hit my first one. This was a valuable lesson early, telling me to just take it easy while travelling.
We slowly headed south to mouth of the river, were it empties into Lake Manitoba. Here the main channel was somewhat deeper than the other portions of the river. The current in this section was also very swift, which meant we couldn’t even keep a 3/8 ounce jig to the bottom while anchored. Luckily we could use crankbaits to both cover water and get to the right depth.
We found by trolling Number Seven Flicker Shads into the current, we could get the lure in the fish zone for longer periods of time. Combined with line counter reels, we adjusted the baits so they ran just above the bottom, in this case just over two metres. This was critical in keeping vegetation fouls to a minimum. Bottom bouncers and spinners would also work in this water, as well as drift jigging.
By paying attention to all of these details, we were able to catch a number of beautiful walleye from 60 to 74 centimetres with two fish passing the Master Angler mark from my friends Al Beaver and Don Delorme. Both were caught on the Golden Shiner pattern that has been a hot lure of mine for four years now. I can remember this lure catching a ton of greenbacks on the Red River three years ago when nothing else was working.
As the sun slowly dipped, numerous ducks and geese filled the sky in this remote country. Then it was time for some fresh walleye!
On day two we headed north just up the highway onProvincial Road 276 to the Skownan First Nation. Here we stopped at the local gas station and paid our $10 fee per angler to access the boat launch on the West Waterhen. As we arrived at the river, one other boat was getting ready to back in. Striking up a conversation, the two anglers from Swan River offered advice on where to fish, plus a piece of information that turned out to be critical to our safety. They warned that south of the bridge, just upstream, were two pieces of steel and cement used as ice breaks to protect the bridge. They offered to wait for us to launch and we followed them between these two dangerous obstructions. Thanks guys for that help!
The West Waterhen is deeper than the Waterhen, so we were able to get the boat on plane after that and head out to the start of the river where it empties out of Lake Winnipegosis. Here we found another boat fishing this expansive area. By trolling upstream and drifting downstream we soon found that the walleye were stacked in this section. I even caught a nice freshwater drum that put up a great battle. While we only fished a couple sections of the river, the anglers we talked to said the fishing in most sections was very good. All in all in was a special trip to a section of Manitoba I had never fished. From Winnipeg we had taken Highway # 6 and after turning on Provincial Road #328 we saw numerous black bears along the way. Just a note, if you don’t want to travel 70 kilometres of gravel, take the Highway north from Ste. Rose du Lac, it is paved all the way up to Waterhen. A special trip with a bunch of life long friends from across the country!
ANGLERS NOTES: While Waterhen Lake is commercially fished, it’s one of the two freshwater lakes in the world to be Eco certified. Commercial fishers on the lake only use gill nets during the winter and closely manage their harvest to make it sustainable.For those anglers looking for a trip a bit closer to home, the Red River has been relatively quiet so far as far as the greenback walleye run is concerned. In the last few years the run has not started until the first week in October which means anytime now! Pine Falls has been providing pretty consistent fishing over the last two weeks.